The Ritual

July 19, 2017 | Author: Alphie Bersabal | Category: Guilt (Emotion)
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The Ritual By Cirilo F. Bautista In the mountains they call it Going Beyond. The way they pronounce The Words endows the sound with a hushed finality as though the meaning had nothing to do with the syllables, the lips just bit parted, afraid to release the Words altogether. Beyond is more than the physical boundaries of the Village, more than the physical boundaries of the mountains, more than the sea and the sky and the land put together. Yes it is not death. It is not life. It is not life and death put together. You may give it any name you want, you may declare these people mad, but in the mountains, they call it Going Beyond. “The trouble with you,” Roy said,”is that you’re a coward.” I looked at him framed by the last glow of sunset that managed to pour through the misted window glass. He just arrived from the city which, from the vintage point of this far-flung Village, was on the other side of eternity. His single bag lay beneath the army cot that stood parallel to the wall; this and the other one I called mine touched ends to form an ell, with two windows dotting their extremities. It was a small room, though it was enough for me. Even on rare event when I had an overnight visitor was still sufficient space to spare. “Imagine coming here, living here with God knows what kind of people. This is not the place for you.” He walked to the table in the middle of the room to refill his glass; the moment he was embraced by light I saw that the years had not altered him. He is still Roy, my big brother, my friend trying o save me from distress most of which he had only imagined. This morning I received a letter from Dayleg the import of which struck me only when I came to the last passage. Dayleg oh the dikes and the downy cogon grass, Dayleg of the dancing uninhibited, Dayleg the devotee turned defiant, Dayleg of the broken skin and white teeth, had spoken at last after two years. Remember he hunt we had two years ago, he wrote, how we crossed the line between heaven and hell in pursuit of the white boar? I remembered. The sacred grove was hardly a forbidding sight: it was like any mountain hunting ground, though there was a sharp tang in the air while the frail twigs cracked louder as we stepped in between the willows and the pines. “Father says this place is a thousand years old,” Dayleg said. “By the way we are ramping all over it we deserve at least fifty years in hell.” “You can start your penance now,” I said. “Surely the Gods will accept contrition by installment.” “It’s down by the stream. Let’s encircle it.” The profound significance of the moment sprang before me while I moved as Dayleg directed. We were on the forbidden grounds tracking an equally forbidden animal. The fact that I was an outsider did not alter nor lighten the gravity of my involvement. Even as we were encircling the animal, a network of guilt was weaving tiny holes of pain in my conscience. By consenting to the hunt I was sharing in the malevolence of a conspiracy. When I arrived by the stream, Dayleg was already bending over the dead animal. A single arrow tail protruded from one side of its neck, the arrowhead having shot clean through the other side. “It’s not white after all.” Dayleg was disappointed. “They have always told me it was pure as cloud.” “What shall we do with it now?” I said, eyeing the animal. It was about three feet long, its body covered with thick, grizzly hair; mud and blood glistened round its throat. Its two tusks were ivory in the fading light. In cold response the boar seemed to cling to its mythic holiness as long as it could. “We’ll take it to the village and show the elders the lie they’ve been handing us all this time.” By the light of the fire we had built against the cold I could see Dayleg’s face as he spoke. It had turned bronze; his eyes shone as though relishing the wickedness of what he had planned to do. His dark, slender trunk covered with a dirty G-string was damp with sweat. But wouldn’t that be the height of sacrilege? You asked. You could not hide the shock (or it was fear) in your face. I could not understand your concern for the whole thing. All you had to do was pack up and go. The gods would have a hard time finding you in the city, crude and walking as they are, if ever they have the mind to meddle in the affairs of a foreigner. Their sovereignty is confined to the mountain. We walked in silence most of the time. In spite of cold night perspiration soaked my clothes. The knapsack grew heavy on my back. I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. A true son of the mountains, Dayleg never showed his pace but even whistled once in a while. The school was a four-room structure of wood and galvanized iron located in a small piece of flat land the people called “The Valley.” “Of course one can get terribly lonely here, and one usually does,” the Principal, Father Van Noort from Belgium, said. I had knocked on the door of his office at the back of the school building and was met by an old man with graying hair and a brownish soutane that used to be white. “As I mentioned in my letter, you’ll be in charge of the fifth class. Literature and Language.” There was a knock on the door followed by the entrance of a dark-skinned man carrying several books. His white trousers and white shirt were spotless; the electric bulb was reflected on his shoes. “Carlos Dayleg, in charge of the fourth class,” Father Van Noort said to me.

After classes Dayleg invited me to a drink. “Make yourself comfortable.” Dayleg said. “The old man must be in a feast somewhere.” The night we talked about many things. I learned that Dayleg had finished a course in pedagogy ad philosophy I a university in the City and that he had come back to this village to do his part in “education of my people.” Dayleg tipped the jar and the floor bloomed into a hundred wet pieces of clay; a graduation photo; a dark face lined with the furrows of years, saying “Hardly were the feet cold that followed your mother’s coffin than you should break her jar. Aye, I tell you son, this house will know peace no more!” It’s not because my people are uneducated that they cling to ancient traditions,” Dayleg said as we walked around the schoolyard during recess the next day, “but it’s a reason civilized men like you don’t and can’t fully understand. It goes to the very bone of their existence. Lumawig, Creator of Earth, permeates their lives, my life, and these traditions are but extensions of His Being. When one turns his back on these he forfeits glory in the afterlife.” “Then you’ve already lost a great part of that glory,” I said reminding him of the wine jar. “That is pardonable under circumstances in which I broke it,” he said. “But what must be obvious to you is that I do things to break these traditions. I believe it’s about time some of them are challenged.” He had gathered thirty of the old villagers, marched them to the schoolhouse where before the blackboard topped a picture of a severe, unsmiling Rizal he lectured them on the advantages of forsaking Lumawig and adopting the ways of Christians. His listeners sat with the passivity of a people used to the hard exigencies of mountain life, their heads, for they could not follow the ramifications of this strange, exotic dialects, taking in the words more out of respect for this young man who had been to the university than out of interest in what he was saying; a few of them, who had come only thinking there would be planning a foot for a forthcoming feast, appeared confuse. His father strode into the room with his army boots clacking on the loose floor boards followed by ten of the village elders. “Know what you’re doing?” his father said in his face. He raised his arm as if to strike his son, but it fell limply on his side. “The devil has charmed his tongue,” one of the elders said. “And his eyes,” another said “I can do what I like,” Dayleg said. “To make your mother turn in her grave?” “To bring my people light.” “It has not fallen upon your shoulders.” “That’s what I went to school for.” “You are young,” a white-haired elder said, obviously the leader. “We can still forgive you.” “I don’t see anything for you to forgive,” there was recussancy in Dayleg’s words. “There is no question but that we should hold a council,” he said. “The rest f you go back to your work.” With a last glance at Dayleg he led the group out of the room. The council, of course, condemned Dayleg’s action; it ordered him to refrain, under pain of expulsion of the tribe, from expounding foreign philosophy to the natives. If Dayleg was hurt by this decision he did to show it. He was one who would not make a martyr of himself even though martyrdom danced before his eyes. Consequently, there was a change in the people’s attitude towards him: they were more careful in mentioning his name. They did not avoid him outright though they took the precaution of not being seen talking to him. It was midnight when we reached the village. Arriving at his father’s house, Dayleg groped in the darkness under it looking for a suitable depository for the boar while I sat on an old tree stump to catch my breath. The moon had come out of the layer of clouds to provide the only illumination in the place-the big, pot-bellied moon on the other nights I might have found romantic but which now enwrapped me with a feeling of dread. “Tomorrow we hold the sacrifice.” Dayleg said sitting beside me. We sat in silence. I listened to the shadows moving across the houses, listened so hard that after they had vanished with the moon that sailed right through the door of the sky, I could still hear them scrapping against the corner of my mind. A ripple of noise cut my sleep: the ripple became wider and wider until I found myself sitting greatly awake, looking around in the room. It was early in the morning. Dayleg was asleep in a corner near the post. I could hear excited voices emanating from below the house: they had discovered the boar. Soon Dayleg too was disturbed by the noise. He sat upright, listened for a while, and then rushed out of the room. When I got downstairs a thin, blinding light pierce my eyes; momentarily I stood there till the light flashed out my sight. Dayleg was brandishing it, no, gesticulating with it, as he was confronted by the elders. A crowd had gathered near the house after someone saw the boar and informed the elders; they came- some of them still shaky from interrupted sleep, some uncertain of what the disturbance was all about-more than a

hundred brown and thin skins. Dayleg stood tall and looming over the animal as through trying to protect it from any sudden snatcher; he held the machete high above his head, it’s a blade pointed upward and catching silvers of sunbeam. His face was granite, inscrutable. “The curse of gods upon us!” an old woman cried. “Many a year I have lived here wishing that at my death I could see the sacred boar running. Now I see it dead. "The curse of gods upon us!” “The grove has been defiled!” “The village shall be without light!” “A thousand droughts shall stalk the terraces!” “In the name of Lumawig, why did you kill the boar?” the leader said. “It was there for hunting.” Dayleg said “For the hunting of the gods, yes, but for us mortals. . .” “The gods would no more hunt there than we would hunt in the moon.” “Blasphemy!” “It has always been and will ever be. Lumawig himself consecrated it when he came down to earth!” “That’s a lie you and the others help to perpetuate. Look at the boar! What is to distinguish it from any other boar? Its blood is as filthy.” “It is sacred!” “It is dead! “"Dead!” He picked up the machete and poked it at the animal’s belly to emphasize his words. “Dayleg, I tell you, your mother is turning in her coffin at the shame you have brought us.” “I am no more guilty of killing this boar than you are declaring it sacred.” “It is dead, dead!” Dayleg shouted. “Only fools would cry over a stinking carcass!” Forthwith he started hacking the boar: the blows thudded on its body as again and again gleaming machete fell on it. The crowd watched in horror, some gasping for breath as if their very bodies were being hit by the weapon. The women’s wailing at this fragrant destruction of the god’s minion rose and fell with the rise and fall of Dayleg’s hand. “Dayleg,” the leader shouted, unable to stop the man’s blows. “Dayleg!" In the name of Lumawig, stop it! What are you doing?” “I’m breaking your lie.” “And consigning us to hell?” “And freeing you from blindness.” “Dayleg, stop it! It’s not too late. The gods can still forgive you.” “No, I’ll show them.” He picked up a piece of the boar’s flesh, held it high over his head and shouted, “I curse you!” The crowd move back terrified as the sacred blood dripped form Dayleg’s fingers and the sacred flesh quivered in his hand. “I curse you,” the sounds came from the sepulcher of Dayleg’s throat, “by a crooked line, a broken line, a right line, a simple line . . .” “Son, remember your mother.” “. . . by flame, by wind, by mass, by rain, by clay . . .” “Lumawig, ruler of the sky,” the leader said kneeling on the ground and beating his breast, “forgive your son. He is young. The heat is in his blood.” “. . . by serpent, by a flying thing, by a creeping thing. . .” “He has sacrificed many a cow in Your honor; he has danced in Your feast till his bones ached.” “I curse you by an eye, by a hand, by a foot, by a cross . . .” “Look not upon this day as a breach upon Your will,” the leader said crying, “but close Your eyes to the wind.” “. . . by a sword, by a scourge, by a flood . . .“ “The wind brings no message if You won’t listen. The sun blinds You not with horror. Let your mind forget this day.” “. . . Haade, Mikaded, Rakeben . . .” “Lumawig, we pray You forgive your son, Remove not Your love from this people.” “Rika, Ritalica, Tasarith, Modeca, Rabert?” On the last word Dayleg flung the boar’s flesh to the ground and overturned the crate with a kick that spilled the rest of the carcass onto earth. Three months later… “I don’t really know why he did it Sir,” wrote Mario, my best student. “I was there there, Sir, and I cannot describe the feelings as I watched him destroy our sacred boar. You may not understand it Sir, you not being one of us, but from our birth we have always believed that the

grove is only for the gods, that whoever enters it as much as touches a blade of grass in it will be denied eternal happiness. Believe this sir; I was horrified by Mr. Dayleg’s action. He did not only bring shame to our village, he also made us share guilt. Sadness has descended thus village, as you will see, Sir, when you come back. Mr. Dayleg has disappeared. It is better that he had not witnessed the rites the elders held for his expulsion. Under our laws, such acts as Mr. Dayleg committed are grievous, so the actor has to be driven out of the tribe to lessen the god’s wrath on the innocent ones who have, nevertheless, been tainted with the guilt by their relationship with the sinner. Sir, we have to do a lot of sacrifice to wash away the sin. I don’t know how this will be possible. The harvest is not good this year. But the best thing is for the sinner, in spite of his expulsion, to come back, to show repentance. Only then will the gods consider our prayers. But we don’t know where he is.” Two years. Early in the morning while I was boiling some coffee, there was a knock on the door. Roy was still curled up in his cot, so I crossed to the living room to see who it was. It was a tall dark man in dirty maong trousers and gray shirt, his long hair, almost touching his shoulders; his beard and moustache covered a large part of his face. “Yes?” I said, not knowing what he wanted. Then he uttered my name. “It’s me, Dayleg,” he said. I opened the door wide and he stepped inside. I led him to the kitchen just in time for me to prevent the coffee from boiling all over the stove. “What happened? Where have you been?” I could scarcely conceal my excitement. He sat down by the table on which so many times before we worked till midnight making our lessons. He had lost weight-his shirt was loose around his shoulders and his veins stood out of the skin in his arms. “Nothing, I have been living with a friend in the City.” He said. “But why didn’t you tell me? I could’ve helped.” “Nobody can help me.” “Been working?” “I could not, though I wanted to.” “You could have taught. Your record was excellent.” “You don’t understand,” he said and looked at me with his bloodshot eyes. “It’s not that/ the gods.” “What?” “The gods. You know what I mean.” “You knew about that before, didn’t you? Even before we hunted the boar?” “Yes.” His voice was old, tired, excruciated by a force too strong for me to unlock. “But I didn’t believe it then.” “Well, you’ve come back. That is the most important thing. Your people will hold a sacrifice tonight. Wait till they hear you’ve come back.” “I can’t come.” “I have to go.” The sacrifice began three hours after noon. Five men, their necks and arms coppery with sweat, dragged a cow down to the village square where a big wooden table had been set. The elders had formed a circle around this table and were already praying. As the animal was being raised aomen above the pit to roast, the dancing began. The clang of brass gongs preceded to a group of men and women whose feet bent the grass to the strange, uneven rhythm, their arms outstretched fluttering in animation, who formed two long lines. We left the dancers and returned to the roasting pit. The cow was now exuding a delicious smell as its fat trickled down the burning coal, producing tiny hisses as it touched the embers; the skin was golden brown and, as the animal was turned by two equally smoke-burnt men, others watched and waited, full of brightness. My thoughts were interrupted by the noise of a commotion emanating from a section of the square. The elders stopped praying and turned their heads in the direction of the dancers. For a while I rubbed my smoke-filled eyes, and caught in the glare of the bright firelight, was a lone man dancing, the ends of high G-string flapping as he moved unerringly to the strange, uneven rhythm of the gongs while shifting shadows drew myriad patterns on his golden chest, his arms elegant in their winging, his feet affirming his thanage of the earth, his long hair and loose beard wavelike in the wind while the people whispered, “He’s back,” “Dayleg, Dayleg” the elders caressed the sky with their eyes and gazed at him. He had returned but the gods had a long memory. He kept on dancing, figure of a man fallen and rising again, with his feet and arms and soul declaring his inviolable kinship with all that made him what he was and what he would be, there in the circle, oh how he danced.

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